Perception and Human Experience

Recently I’ve been geeking out on the brain. I’ve learned that how we feel, and the stories and meanings we create in our minds, determine our day-to-day actions. Today, I want to talk about mental filters. Our mental filters impact our internal perceptions, the meanings we assign to events, the stories we tell ourselves, our emotional states, actions and results.

People respond to perception more than reality. The quality of our life experience depends on how we process external information. Opinions, feelings, thoughts, and truth are all changeable aspects of perception. We are all constantly influenced and influencing. It can seem like a person makes you feel a certain way, or act a certain way.

That’s a load of BS.

Strange as it sounds, no one can make you feel anything without your cooperation. No one is broken. Therefore, we are all personally responsible for our emotions and actions. Our emotional states arise from our internal emotions, and our internal emotions are connected to our thoughts, and the meanings we assign to events.

Now, we always have bias in our thinking. We want the way we see things to match up with our existing beliefs and worldviews. This is where our mental filters come into play.

Brains use and love mental filters because they provide short cuts for interpreting events. With so much sensory information coming at us, shortcuts help the brain conserve energy, which is good because the brain uses a crap-ton of energy. Our mental filters process everything all the time. Mental filters include: generalizations, deletions, personalizations and distortions.

Generalizations are when we apply the characteristic of one individual to all individuals of a similar group. So, generalizations are kind of like stereotypes.

Race, gender and profession are some examples or groups that are commonly generalized, but a generalization can be based on just about anything. Linguistically, you’ll spot generalizations by extreme words like: always, never, all, or none.

Deletions occur when we fail to notice aspects of a situation. Experts estimate that we delete roughly 80% of all external information. There’s simply too much to process, so we all develop a sort of tunnel vision on whatever we’re focusing on.

We only know our own emotions. We can never know another person’s internal reality. We remember the bad hurtful things that others do, and we forget the hurtful things we do. This sort of concentrated tunnel vision is all about avoiding pain.

In a debate, you wouldn’t bring up anything that weakened the point you’re arguing. In a similar way, your beliefs and values are like the point you’re arguing. Your brain tends not to notice aspects of an experience that don’t confirm the opinions, values and beliefs you already hold.

Personalizations are when we assume that everything others say and do is in some response to us. It’s also when we compare ourselves to others.

This can lead us to imagine that everything’s about us in some way, or that we are somehow responsible for external events that aren’t our fault at all.  Personalization can be a trigger for destructive self-blame cycles, so it’s important to put into perspective the things we can control, like our thoughts, emotions and actions.

Finally, distortions occur when we misremember an event. Our ego twists a situation to fit our underlying beliefs and values. Since, we respond more to perception than to actual reality, we can easily jump to the wrong conclusions about why people do what they do.

Our mental filters are mostly unconscious, and work on perceptions and assumptions like this:

There is an external event. We experience this event though our 5 main senses.

Our mental filters (deletions, distortions, generalizations & personalization) often operate unconsciously or outside of our awareness. Our mental filters are based on our beliefs, values, memories and interpretations of past events.

Once through the mental filters, we come to an inner perception of the external event. This becomes the story or meaning that we give to the event, either to others, or just in our mind.

The meaning or interpretation we put onto that event influences our emotional state.

In turn, our emotional state directs our response or subsequent actions.

Misunderstandings are so common because everyone’s brain filters an event differently. Our memories form under the influence of our mental filters. It is common for two people to have a different perception or memory of the exact same event.

Let’s get out on a limb and state that, typically, no one goes out of there way to hurt anyone else. Still, it happens all the time: miscommunications, jumping to the wrong conclusions, etc. Once we understand how we interpret reality, and how our mental filters operate, it’s easy to see how misunderstandings can happen.

We have a sneaky sort of bias that judges ourselves based on our motives and intentions, and other people based on their actions. Our modes of perception can be rational and informational, or they emotional and experiential. There is a need to meld emotion and reason in growth.

We have a tendency to blame others for our emotions and reactions. But no one else is capable of making us feel anything without our cooperation. We can master our ideas and emotions.

In summary, our quality of life is based on how we process external events. We influence and are influenced everyday by our mental filtering as we experience the world through our five senses. The external event is filtered through our beliefs, values and memories. Our beliefs come from interpretations of past life events. Our values drive and govern our decisions. Memories underpin our beliefs, and those are developed through our mental filters and memories. We don’t go out of our way to hurt others, but we do hurt others. We often use different measures to judge ourselves, versus others because of how our brains work. We have a blind spot and how we impact others

Our perception shapes a story, and this story influences our emotional state, and our response and actions. Our brain has various filters that process external information including: generalizations, deletions, personalizations and distortions.

The generalization filter is when you apply one experience to every other experience of a similar kind. Look for words like all, none, always, or never. These absolute statements indicate that a generalization is being made.

Deletions occur through forgetting or through selective remembrance. We can remember the bad, and forget the good.

Personalizations occur when we feel that everything is about us, or when we hold ourselves responsible for things we don’t control.

Distortions occur when we skew an external reality or an external event to suit our own perception.

Our filters can selectively distort, delete or otherwise warp experience to confirm our worldview.

Everyone is the expert of their own life.  Jumping to the wrong conclusion does not mean you are broken. Filters impact internal representations, the stories we tell, the meanings we assign, and these can be positive or negative.



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